It’s estimated more than 600 people gathered in Muskoseepi Park Sunday afternoon to celebrate the lives of children the community has lost. The 5th annual Walk to Remember is an event put on by the Tiny Hands of Hope Society, a non-profit that helps people touched by all types of infant loss.
Valene and Brent Richards lost their daughter Rhemi at 35 weeks gestation on March 24, 2016. This was their second Walk to Remember, and they say it helps to gather with others who understand their loss.
“We find that it’s a great experience to share with our family and our children, and great to see other people in the baby loss community because it can be so isolating,” explains Valene.
“When you come out and you can see more and more people and everyone’s sharing stories, just seeing faces it helps ease the heart pain.”
The Richards shared their story with the crowd at the amphitheatre, where people could also decorate prayer flags and write down stories about or to the little ones they’d lost. The walk then took the group on a loop around the Muskoseepi Park trails, where the names of each child were written in chalk. Afterwards, bubbles were blown as each name was read out loud.
Talking about the loss of a child can still be a scary subject in society, but Valene and Brent believe it’s the best way to cope.
“They don’t know what to say; they’re worried about hurting feelings,” says Valene. “I think it would be great just for everybody to know that it helps to talk about our loss and our babies and bringing it up doesn’t hurt us; it actually makes our hearts a little bit happy.”
“When you’re not talking about it, it’s easy to shut down and isolate yourself and that’s not what you want to do,” Brent includes. “You want to be surrounded by the ones you love and get to know more people.”
Rhemi is still included in the daily lives of the Richards, who have two other children: six year old Wyatt and four year old Aralynn. They talk about her when they see beautiful things like a butterfly or rainbow, and have pictures up around their house.
“We didn’t get to know much about her because it was such a short time, but she was one of the best things that could have happened to us and it’s changed our life forever,” Valene says.
“We hope she would have done great things, but we know by what happened, we’re going to make great things happen and she’s still going to do great things by helping other people go through this,” adds Brent.
Grande Prairie city council recently approved the building of a children’s memorial garden by Maskwôtêh Park, across Bear Creek from the new regional hospital. Tiny Hands of Hope president Karen Gilkyson hopes it will be a place for those touched by infant loss to go year-round.
“Many of us have young children, so what I love about it being right beside Maskwôtêh is… they have a place to run around but also there will be a place for the children are not with me right now that we can honour and celebrate them.”
Gilkyson adds that while her organization typically deals with pregnancy loss, neonatal loss, stillbirth, SIDs and infant death up to the age of 24 months, the garden will be for children of any age. There’s no timeline yet for construction, but Parks Manager Lindsey Juniper has said there are future plans to build a bridge to connect the park and garden to the new hospital.